Big 12 Campus Correspondent
After the last tassel has turned and the final diploma has been delivered, newly graduated college students usually head off to celebrate with friends and family, but Fred Ellis didn't have time for any parties in his honor. He had a basketball game to play.
"I had to transition quick," Ellis said. "I couldn't get too emotionally high about graduating, because we had the game coming up. I had to celebrate a little later."
That game was Baylor's December 18 showdown against Gonzaga at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Ellis was the first graduate in Baylor's morning commencement ceremonies to walk the stage in an effort to make the game's 3:30 p.m. tip time. With his speech communications degree in hand, Ellis hopped in a car to make the 95-mile trip from Waco to the Metroplex.
The time in the car allowed the 6-foot-6-inch forward from, Sacramento, California to reflect on all he had just achieved. As the first member of his family to graduate from college and to do it in three and a half years, Ellis had a lot to process.
"It was very emotional," Ellis said. "I was just sitting there thinking, 'this is a big accomplishment for me and my family.' I am just happy my mom and everybody was here to see that."
Despite a 30-minute traffic delay, Ellis did make the game on time and logged 13 minutes off the bench, while scoring three points. The game did not go in Baylor's favor, but Ellis had a of lifetime memories from a full day of unique experiences.
Throughout his four years at Baylor, the redshirt junior has had plenty of unique experiences. Off the court, Ellis traveled to Kenya during the summer of 2010 with a group of Baylor student-athletes to do mission work.
"I just learned the importance of staying humble and really appreciating where you are from, because people take for granted the situation that they are in," Ellis said of the trip. " A lot of people don't have food or a place to live there and it just really helped me appreciate everything I have been given."
On the court, Ellis has seen the BU program make two NCAA appearances and earn a berth in the NIT Finals. However, the moment that brings back the best memory for Ellis is when the team was selected for its first NCAA Tournament since 1988 in the 2007-08 season.
"We were nervous, because we didn't know if we were going to be in or not, so we were just sitting there waiting and then it was funny: we were the last team called on the selection show, so when we were called the place went crazy," Ellis said. "That just sticks in my mind always."
Ellis didn't get to play that season, because he was redshirting, but the experience he gained during that time still serves him today. Currently, Ellis is the only player from California on the Baylor roster and while Waco, Texas, doesn't seem like a dream destination for a basketball player from the West coast, he is convinced he made the right decision.
"One thing about Coach Drew is he can sell water to a whale," Ellis said. "He just has the enthusiasm that makes you feel you are going to be a part of something special. Over the course of my time and his time here, he has made something out of nothing, so that is great to be a part off."
This season, Ellis has been utilized as a leader off the bench and Coach Drew says that Ellis brings consistency to the Baylor lineup.
"One thing he always does is he competes," Drew said. "He always battles. He always fights. As a coach you feel good when you put in someone from whom you are going to get a 100 percent. He is pretty much consistent and you know what you are going to get from him, so that is exciting."
At the beginning of the spring semester, Ellis started graduate classes in sports management and hopes to one day work as the general manager for his hometown Sacramento Kings.
Right now though, Ellis is happy to continue getting unique opportunities, even after already earning the diploma that he came to college to get.